Ginger for IBS: Does it work & what the research says to treat IBS symptoms

Ginger for IBS: Does it work & what the research says to treat IBS symptoms

If you're one of the 20 percent of Americans that suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), there's no doubt you have already searched for treatments to alleviate your debilitating IBS symptoms.

Regardless of whether it's embarrassing bloating, agonizing cramps, continuous abdominal pain, or episodes of constipation or diarrhea. You might have considered ginger as a possible remedy for functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Ginger has recently been gaining ground in the medical field as a potential remedy for IBS and other gastrointestinal issues. While initial research into ginger may appear promising, is there any scientific proof that this ancient herb can help provide relief from IBS symptoms?

In this blog post, we’ll go deep into the research to examine ginger’s efficacy in treating IBS and learn how you can attempt to use it to alleviate your uncomfortable symptoms.

What is ginger root?

Ginger root, also known as Ginger Zingiber officinale, is a popular and versatile spice commonly used in cooking and traditional Chinese medicine.

The plant is native to Southeast Asia but is now grown in many tropical climates around the world. Ginger grows under the ground, and its shape resembles a short, thick stick.

The root has a tan exterior with a slightly yellow-orange inside that can be peeled and chopped or grated for culinary or herbal medicines use. You can also purchase ginger powder or ginger tea.

Ginger root is rich in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. It contains up to 3 percent of an essential oil composed of a variety of compounds, which are the active ingredients that have been studied for their potential health benefits.

It has a warm, pungent aroma and flavor that comes from the active ingredient gingerol. Ginger has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Ayurvedic, Chinese, and ancient Egyptian and Greek medicine. Today it's still a popular alternative medicine among Chinese and Iraqi populations.

Ginger is also a tasty addition to meals, and one of the 70 IBS friendly herbs and spices to use for cooking.

Tea made from ginger root.
Tea made from ginger root.

‍Why Ginger in Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The exact cause of IBS is still unknown, and there's no one-size-fits-all treatment. However, research suggests that ginger may provide relief from some of the uncomfortable symptoms of IBS. Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

In addition, researchers believe that ginger works by targeting receptors, hormones, and enzymes involved in digestion in the digestive tract. And therefore may relieve symptoms in functional bowel disorders and be effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome.

Studies have found that the use of fresh ginger root in patients with IBS reduces abdominal pain and bloating, as well as improves stool consistency. Ginger has also been shown to be effective in reducing levels of gas and other symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and indigestion.

Ginger is a popular alternative medicine to rifaximin treatment, which is commonly prescribed in the diarrheal IBS subtypes (IBS-D). Ginger relieves intestinal hypersensitivity in the gastrointestinal tract by inhibiting pro-inflammatory reactions.

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Is ginger effective for IBS symptoms?  

The pain associated with IBS-D is proportional to the number of inflammatory factors (e.x. PGE2) secreted by the body. Randomized controlled trials have confirmed that 6-gingerol prevents the release of several pro-inflammatory factors (TNF-alpha, IL-6, iNOS, COX2), thus preventing inflammation. 

Studies using ginger on an IBS-D model of rats have confirmed a reduction in diarrheal symptoms. The anti-inflammatory abilities of ginger have been comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with slight differences that can potentially result in fewer side effects than NSAIDs.

Is there enough scientific support to use Ginger as clinical treatment for IBS?

The short answer is no, and more research is needed to come to definitive conclusions and replace conventional medications.

The body of literature is sparse but is increasingly showing the effectiveness of ginger for medicinal use. There is no doubt that ginger offers anti-inflammatory health benefits, but clinical evidence on the gastrointestinal effects of ginger as a potential treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not sufficient.

The interaction with the gut microbiota is also not fully investigated but preliminary data with rat models demonstrated a significant increase in short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) through ginger supplementation. SCFAs are fuel sources for intestinal cells and play an important role in immune function and regulating intestinal functions such as metabolism, gut motility, and gut barrier strength in the GI tract.

The growing number of trials including ginger demonstrates the interest in using gingerol for IBS treatment. To date, there is at least 4 RCTS underway that has yet to publish their data. Most of the unpublished RCTs feature ginger alongside other herbs in the form of powder or oil form mixed in as a combination therapy.

Lemonade made with ginger and lemon.
Lemonade made with ginger and lemon.

Clinical Data: Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)

The published RCTs to date have fairly small participation pools and require larger studies in the future. Furthermore, there was only one study to our knowledge that solely uses ginger, and it had shown non-significant effects. Many IBS clinical trials featuring ginger included it as a component of a larger herbal blend, thus the benefits of ginger cannot be determined in isolation. Other components in the herbal blends include peppermint oil and coco grass.

The grams of ginger and the formula of the ginger in the therapies also varied greatly ranging from dried ginger to fresh root and ginger powder.

With a lack of standardization in treatment and a limited number of published trial results, there is insufficient scientific evidence for the treatment of IBS with ginger.

How much ginger is improving IBS Symptoms?

There is no consensus on the efficacy and dosage of ginger in treating IBS symptoms, as it depends largely on the severity and chronicity of the condition. However, most formulations used between 1-3 grams per day in clinical trials, with some studies using up to 6 g/day.

Ginger root extract is available in supplement form, which is most effective at 1,5-2 gr daily. There are no reported long-term effects or toxicity associated with the use of ginger. To ensure the safe use of any herbal product, we recommend consulting with a medical doctor.

The plant has been used over thousands of years in herbal traditional medicines and is believed to improve hut health. Ginger is sold over the counter and isn't approved by the Food and drug administration. Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

How to take ginger for improved bowel movements and IBS symptoms?

The best way to take ginger for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is in its natural form as a root or powder. You can chew on it or add ginger to your food when cooking. When experiencing abdominal pain, fresh ginger tea can be a soothing warm drink and is one of the natural remedies to improve stomach discomfort.

You can also find ginger extract, tinctures, capsules, and oils that contain concentrated amounts of active ingredients like gingerol. You can combine ginger with peppermint oil and other herbs. However, it is important to check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.

Ginger root with leaves and lemons.
Ginger root with leaves and lemons.

What are other health benefits of ginger?

Ginger is used for treating nausea in:

Eating ginger can help with bloating, constipation, and other intestinal issues to support the digestive system. As well as broader health benefits that include:

Free radical control

The antioxidants in ginger help to control free radicals, which are compounds that can damage cells when their numbers get too high.

Reducing inflammation

Out of the 400+ natural compounds found in ginger, some boast anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research is necessary to determine if consuming ginger has any effect on medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or upper respiratory infections.

Bottom line

Ginger is one of the oldest and most widely used medicinal herbs in the world. This powerful natural remedy has been attributed to improving digestive health and reducing inflammation throughout history. Leading many IBS sufferers to turn to ginger as a potential solution for their uncomfortable symptoms.

There have been several clinical studies that found that ginger offers anti-inflammatory health benefits, but clinical evidence for the use of ginger to treat or alleviate symptoms of IBS is lacking. To date the clinical trials that featured ginger for IBS used a herbal compound in a small study group, resulting in insufficient scientific evidence. That said, ginger can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet and can be consumed with minimal risk of adverse effects on health.

Overall, it appears that ginger may be beneficial for reducing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and improving overall gut health. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking ginger or any other supplement to determine the best treatment plan.

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